Doug Jost was warned to put three months worth of paycheques into a savings account before he retired last June from his job as a full-time reservist with the Royal Canadian Navy. Defence Department bureaucrats told him it could take up to 12 weeks to collect his first pension cheque.
More than six months later, as he contemplates the looming possibility of bankruptcy and the fact that he cannot provide for his school-aged children, Mr. Jost says he wishes the 12-week prediction had proved true. The 48-year-old former lieutenant – who spent 25 years in the Navy, some of them with the reserves and some with the regular force – has yet to receive his first pension cheque.
"I guess I can hang on another month or so," Mr. Jost said. But "I am in quite a precarious financial situation."
Mr. Jost acknowledges that he is a young retiree. But he said he found the morale in the Navy slipping in recent years and, after a quarter century of military life, he figured it was time to move on. The fact that he was entitled to a pension made his decision easy.
He retired to Quebec City because that is where his former spouse's family lives – the two share custody of their children, who are 9 and 12. But employment opportunities for anglophones in the Quebec capital are limited and, despite constant searching, he has been unable to find a job. Without his pension money, his finances have run dry.
The Auditor-General examined the Reserve Force Pension Plan in 2011, four years after it was first introduced, and found that it had been implemented without adequate planning. That created significant backlogs, the Auditor-General said, both in the processing of the claims of retired reservists and in determining how much each one would be required to pay – to compensate for the years before the pension plan came into effect and contributions were not being made.
Despite promises by DND that more staff would be hired to deal with the problems, the Defence ombudsman says excessive delays in the processing of reservists' pensions persist.
"Although the department has made improvements in this matter, we have been and remain concerned for the well-being of our constituents," the ombudsman's office said Friday. "This office continues to monitor the situation and is aware it remains an issue. We have recently requested an update from the Canadian Armed Forces."
DND officials said in an e-mail on Friday that the department has addressed many of the issues highlighted in the Auditor-General's report, including hiring new staff.
"There are very good reasons for Mr. Jost's pension to be delayed," they said. "Mr. Jost is aware of these reasons. Due to privacy concerns, we cannot discuss any details of his particular case."
But Mr. Jost said there are no special circumstances about his case – other than the fact that he was a reservist – that would cause his pension cheque to be delayed.
It took 3 1/2 months for the Defence Department to audit his file, he said, and it wasn't until October that he was told how much he owed for the years before 2007 when the plan was not in effect and he was not paying into it. The department would not start to calculate that amount until after he had retired, Mr. Jost said.
He said he is aware of others in his situation. A friend of his who was also a reservist retired in May and did not get a pension cheque until December. And, Mr. Jost said, when he has discussed the case with DND officials, he has been told that some reservists have had to wait two or three years for their pensions. When asked if that is true, the Defence officials said: "Unfortunately, we cannot provide a response at this time."
Had Mr. Jost retired from another government department, he would likely have received his first payment by mid-summer.
According to the Department of Public Works, the standard for getting a first pension cheque to a retired member of the public service is 30 to 45 days, and that standard is met 97 per cent of the time.
Irene Mathyssen, the NDP critic for veterans' affairs, said Mr. Jost's situation is too common among reservists and it is time for the Liberal government – which is aware of both the Auditor-General's report and the concerns of the Defence ombudsman – to do something about it.
"For someone to try to scramble on nothing for six months is just not acceptable," Ms. Mathyssen said. "It's been my experience that kids don't give up eating for six months. They get very cranky about that."